Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
While either on his own, or teamed with songwriting partner Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman has authored some of the most lasting songs in pop music, including "Save the Last Dance for Me" and "Teenager in Love." Born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrant parents, Shuman studied at the New York Conservatory but felt rejected and alienated by his peers in Brooklyn. Identifying with the black community in Harlem, Shuman's true musical education came within that area's raucous R&B clubs, where he soaked up the sounds of Ruth Brown and others. Shuman started penning lyrics at 18 and found success when his songs such as "Surrender" were recorded by Elvis. In 1958 the songwriter met fellow white R&B devotee Doc Pomus and the two took up residence in a small Greenwich Village flat, forming a successful songwriting partnership. Together the duo signed on as writers at the Brill Building, penning hits for the Drifter's ("Save the Last Dance for Me" and "Sweets for My Sweet"), Elvis ("Little Sister") and Dion & the Belmonts ("Teenager in Love"). Those early-'60s songs represented the zenith of Shuman's creative output ( "Last Dance" alone has been played across the airwaves over four million times), but the songwriter continued to write for Janis Joplin, Andy Williams, and the Small Faces, among others. In 1966, Shuman had somewhat of an epiphany when he heard the work of Belgian composer Jacques Brel. He immediately moved to France and began translating Brel's work into English. In the early '70s, he wrote and directed a musical around his translations of Brel's songs and titled it Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Shuman also became a star in his own right in France when several of his French-language songs (filtered through a New York accent) became hits. In 1991, shortly before undertaking a musical based on his life, Shuman died at the age of 52 in a London hospital from complications due to a liver operation.